Thursday, September 26, 2019

Anthropic Principle and Anthropocentrism

Physicist Brandon Carter proposed the Anthropic Principle in 1973. It has become the topic of many fascinating scientific, philosophical, and theological discussions. William Lane Craig, philosopher and theologian, has written extensively on matters of faith, including the Anthropic Principle. The following Craig quote strikes a balance between scholarly complexity and simplicity:

In recent years, however, the scientific community has been stunned by its discovery of how complex and sensitive a nexus of conditions must be given in order for the universe to permit the origin and evolution of intelligent life on Earth. The universe appears, in fact, to have been incredibly fine-tuned from the moment of its inception for the production of intelligent life on Earth at this point in cosmic history. In the various fields of physics and astrophysics, classical cosmology, quantum mechanics, and biochemistry, various discoveries have repeatedly disclosed that the existence of intelligent carbon-based life on Earth at this time depends upon a delicate balance of physical and cosmological quantities, such that were any one of these quantities to be slightly altered, the balance would be destroyed and life would not exist.

More succinctly, astrophysicist Hugh Ross says the anthropic principle is “…the conclusion that the universe, Milky Way Galaxy, solar system, and Earth are all exquisitely fine-tuned so that human life can exist and flourish.” The previous quote supports the scriptural concept that the universe was created with its life supporting properties for the benefit of life, particularly humanity. But the fine tuning of the physical universe was inherently built into the physical world even before the arrival of humanity. God repeatedly pronounced the creation “good” even in the sequential time frames prior to the arrival of life. The adverb very is not used in Scripture translations, however, until the final creation of humans.

Scientists and philosophers have expanded upon the simplest concepts of the anthropic principle. The reactions of non-scientists may range across a wide spectrum. Perhaps this is because many analysts have substituted philosophical speculation for scientific inquiry. We do not disparage philosophical analysis, but it is possible to divert from and lose our grip on the main point. For example, some commentators state that the universe is “compelled” to produce conscious life such as human life. Others say the anthropic principle points to the existence of the “multiverse.” Still others connect the anthropic principle with naturalistic evolution of human life.                

The term anthropocentrism is related to the anthropic principle. It suggests humanity is the central “being” or “fact” of universal existence, the final “aim” or “end” of the universe. Everything is conceived in terms of human values and experience. This point of view may have marginal validity, but not to the exclusion of all other life values and a healthy theistic worldview: How do we see the world in terms of our everyday outlook in all areas of life and belief? Extreme anthropocentrists may have limited environmental concerns, for example. 

Anthropocentrism is not one-dimensional. Believers in the Biblical theistic worldview, while they recognize the primacy of man, are multidimensional in terms of interests, values, and responsibility toward their Creator, fellow man, and the environment. In respect to belief in God, we cite a personal quote from our post of 3-16-2016: “The evidence points to a Creator who transcends our space-time dimensions and acts as the cause of all that exists. Our universe could not have “self-created.” God fashioned a universe where life could exist. The presence of life in our space-time continuum is evidence for the Creator of All Things.


Monday, September 23, 2019

Beginnings and Designs

Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle (1915-2001) coined the term “Big Bang” to describe what his  scientist colleagues had described as an explosive event. Hoyle never accepted the concept of a Big Bang. He advocated the “Steady State” theory in which matter is continually created. He felt that the Big Bang was a pseudoscientific, irrational proposal. The universe was infinitely old, he believed, having no beginning (also no end!). He described space as never ending.

When I began my teaching career the school district budget permitted me to purchase a generous quantity of books. Among the volumes I ordered was one by Fred Hoyle (as I recall, the title was The Nature of the Universe) in which he outlined some of his theories on cosmology. This scientist did not believe the universe originated in a minuscule singularity, followed by a momentary inflationary stage, preceding a hot Big Bang as scientists currently believe. As a young elementary school student I speculated what was beyond the apparent dome of sky surface which seemed to meet the solid Earth at the horizon. Was there anything beyond? And what about the beginning of time? 

In my youth, I speculated there was NO beginning to time, because we could always imagine time existed further back, before the earliest instant of time we could conceive. Hoyle agreed that time was infinite—no beginning, no end. My youthful speculations did not include the later developed hypothesis that the universe originated in the Big Bang—the beginning of time, space, matter, and energy, and that the event can be pinpointed to a finite point on a time scale. The event dating to 13.8 billion years ago has been refined and accepted by astrophysicists in the past few decades with practically no uncertainty. Genesis 1:1 proclaims that the universe did have a beginning: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” The deep concept of a beginning is affirmed by both science and Holy Scripture.

The existence of a beginning to our universe is an intractable problem for scientists who do not believe in the existence of God. The beginning of time, space, matter, and energy implies a Beginner. The Beginner was God. Most scientists now acknowledge the Big Bang as the beginning of the universe but a majority of professional scientists do not yet acknowledge the God of Scripture as the Beginner. There is another intractable problem for scientists who do not believe in God. The problem relates to the apparent existence of overwhelming Intelligent Design with attendant fine tuning of multiple design features inherent in our physical universe.

We return to Fred Hoyle. Although he was an atheist, Intelligent Design enthusiasts sometimes quote his powerful discoveries and the surprising statements he uttered concerning them. Hoyle was a champion of the hypothesis of stellar nucleosynthesis. This hypothesis cites the formation of carbon atoms from simpler atoms such as  helium and beryllium. This was impossible unless a process called the “triple alpha process” could account for the amount of carbon present in the universe. Life in the universe is dependent on the existence of the element carbon in sufficient quantities. A highly unlikely “resonance” was discovered in the carbon-12 nucleus. Hoyle invoked the Anthropic Principle when he famously stated in 1981, “It appears a super intellect has monkeyed with the physics.” Some ID enthusiasts envisioned the statement as an affirmation of their ID worldview. In a more scholarly utterance in 1959 Hoyle stated, “I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed.”

There were many other naturalistic scientists who recognized the design features of the universe. Paul Davies, British astrophysicist, has reported on numerous design evidences in his many years of writing and research. We quote two of many: “Through my scientific work, I have come to believe more and more strongly that the universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brutal fact” (The Mind of God, 1992). In The Cosmic Blueprint, 1988, Davies said, “(There) is for me powerful evidence that there is ‘something going on’ behind it all. The impression of design is overwhelming.”

Davies was roundly criticized by a cadre of famous scientists who criticized his 2007 opinion article “Taking Science on Faith” in The New York Times. Each of the objecting scientists was either an atheist or an agnostic. Davies is known as an agnostic. Nevertheless, over the years he has uttered much support to those considering belief in an Intelligent Designer, the Creator of the Universe. He willingly submits to discussions with theists such as Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. Ross stated in The Creator and the Cosmos (2018, fourth edition) that “Davies deserves credit for ongoing reconsiderations and revisions of his position…..Davies seems to be moving toward some form of theism.”

We leave it for readers to ponder why the overwhelming evidence for Intelligent Design is not a “slam dunk” for belief in the Creator of Scripture among non-scientist laypeople, but especially professional scientists.

The premier promoter of the Intelligent Design paradigm is Stephen Meyer, author of recent books such as Signature in the Cell (2009) and Darwin’s Doubt (2013). Meyer is director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. As director, Meyer would agree that Discovery Institute be recognized as promoter of a “scientific research program.” He may be pleased to acknowledge his own strong personal theistic beliefs and deep personal thoughts. In Darwin’s Doubt (2013) he clarifies his beliefs: “The ability to detect design makes belief in an intelligent designer (or a creator, or God) not only a tenet of faith, but something to which the evidence of nature now bears witness. In short, it brings science and faith into real harmony.” In Signature in the Cell (2009), he stated explicitly, “I personally think that the evidence of design in biology, considered in the context of other evidence, strengthens the case for theism and, thus, my personal belief in God. Subjectively, as a Christian theist, I find this implication of intelligent design “intellectually satisfying.”

We link a related past post on the Intelligent Design paradigm:



Saturday, September 14, 2019

Discovering Climate Truth

Whenever someone questions how we feel about climate change, we may be hard pressed to offer a coherent statement to satisfy the questioner. In our day we are confronted by a plethora of conflicting truth claims on the climate issue. Many of these truth claims spring from ubiquitous references to climate change we encounter in everyday modern life. The issue generates anxiety among many of today’s residents. Moderate anxiety ascends to catastrophic fear in some citizens, driven by politicians who wish to force their climate agenda on the public. Currently, the presidential primary season has revealed that a vast majority of candidates of one major party has installed climate change as a paramount platform issue. Readers may be confronted by questions: What is your view? What guides your thinking and belief on the climate change issue? What is true?

We return to the subject of truth claims. Truth theory is not very often a subject of everyday discussion. Citizens should be cognizant of many types of truth in connection with the observation that “climate change is real.” Of course, virtually everyone agrees that climate change is real. Climate has been changing from time immemorial—a very long time! The truth of propositions related to climate change beyond the above statement that “climate change is real” should be analyzed carefully. 

Over a dozen categories of truth are described in literature. A majority of truth seekers subscribe to a category called correspondence truth, one of five primary categories of truth. It signifies truth which corresponds to reality, corresponds to the way the world is, corresponds to facts, and describes the actual state of affairs. The truth that “climate change is real” is an indisputable example of correspondence truth. Beyond our agreement that the correspondence truth of this statement is undeniable, the main issues surrounding the strident advocacy of climate change remediation fall far short of correspondence truth. We briefly discuss four other categories of truth below:

Consensus truth: Shaped by agreement within a specified group

Constructionist truth: Shaped by social or community forces

Coherence truth: Shaped by coherence (fitting together) of multiple sets of propositions or beliefs

Pragmatic truth: Shaped and confirmed by practical results or effects

Most progressive political activists propose aggressive remediation. Their advice is based on the overpowering belief that climate change has profoundly negative current effects and that scientific models accurately predict future catastrophic conditions. They believe their suggestions for remediation justify the spending of trillions of dollars to phase out recovery, processing, and use of almost all carbon-based fuels in the future.

Such startling controversial proposals, not only in the United States, but among most of the nations of the world, have their origins in errant or inadequate thinking concerning truth. The concept of truth or truth theory has not been stressed in our culture. With respect to climate change and numerous other life issues, appropriate conclusions about truth gravitate away from correspondence truth and stray toward the many other categories of truths outlined above—consensus, constructionist, coherence, and pragmatic. For example, if we all agree that “climate change is real,” we must not assert that interpretations of cause or suggestions for remediation will hold equal truth value in determining our course of action.

On climate change issues, we may ask if oft-repeated statements like “the science tells us that…” actually point to scientists’ discovery of truth in the area of climate. This statement is a source of misunderstanding of truth. The practice of science offers, according to one source, “accurate and reliable explanations.” Science is not a search for truth. Neither is science a “body of truth.” Rather, science is an activity, a systematic method of study of the physical and natural world. Sometimes we extend  the usage of the term to a particular branch of study—agricultural science, for example.

We leave our readers with heartfelt recommendations: Read all you can about  weather and climate. Affirm that your grandparents and great-grandparents endured many extreme weather events that rival events occurring today. Consult scientists on all sides of the divisive climate change issue. Discover how our weather and climate systems are miracles of wondrous complexity. Study how destructive weather events are relatively rare and in the long term may contribute to the general health of our climate system. Attest that Planet Earth is a God-provided place to thrive.

In dozens of posts since we began to address Earth’s climate system and offer commentary on weather and climate change, we have attempted to uplift our readers with thankfulness for Earth’s resources. We are confident our Creator provides for the welfare of Earth’s billions of residents and that He supplies wisdom for human stewardship of the creation. We link one early post from 9/15/12. The last paragraph relates to our current post’s discussion of truth. We quote from it: “God’s people in science or in any other profession must search out and apply truth concerning the natural world. The discovery of truth is an achievable goal of awesome responsibility. When scientists disagree on a matter of great import to humanity such as the multidimensional climate change issue, the stakeholders share responsibility and culpability to search out what is true and what is false and act accordingly.”







Friday, September 6, 2019

Climate Change: Separating Blame from Cause

Our climate change discussion begins with recollection of two different undergraduate electives offered by my university more than a half-century ago. Their one-word course titles caught my eye—meteorology and climatology. As a childhood resident of Central New York, weather had always provided a source of interest. The six-month transition from plentiful winter snow near Syracuse, NY, followed by that region’s lazy, hazy days of summer left a lasting impression. Mid latitude meteorological variety is still ingrained in my conscious preference.

Climatology was a logical sequel to meteorology. I devoured both courses—meteorology as a discussion of short-term atmospheric conditions such as temperature, precipitation, wind, and humidity among other topics; climatology as a manifestation of average long-term weather conditions. Searching my memory for instructional strategies, I recall that the presentation was straightforward and positive. There was no political or economic agenda. Climate was not mentioned in any negative sense. Possibly, the term “climate change” was not even mentioned.

Who has not noticed that weather and climate discussions now often merge with a pejorative comment? Climate, a fascinating planetary system worthy of awe, wonder, and diligent study, is often linked with the concept of change. We are now overly focused on climate change. Of course climate is changeable and has been changeable since the creation of our physical planetary system. Climate changeability is a positive component of dynamic planetary adaptability which acts most often for the benefit of Earth’s living creatures. 

As we compose this post, destructive Hurricane Dorian is wreaking havoc along the US east coast. Some commentators waste no time blaming its destructive power on anthropogenic (human caused) climate change. They conflate destructive climate change and anthropocentrism—the view that humans are the predominant species on Earth. Many modern radical environmentalists blend anthropocentrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism. These observations are currently the source of confusion about our view of the created world and how humans manage its resources for their own benefit. There have been mighty hurricanes in North America for multiple thousands of years, long before European discovery of the New World. Humans should not be blamed for causing greater intensity or frequency of weather events such as hurricanes.

Scientists attempt to discover causes of natural events including meteorological and climatological events. We must be aware of the difference between assignment of blame or cause with respect to the broad spectrum of changing weather and climate. Are humans to blame for climate change, particularly harmful global warming? Many alarmists claim we are. The production of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels receives substantial blame for climate change. But there are hundreds of other causes which result in perceived positive as well as occasional negative impacts. Climate catastrophists place the primary blame on man for his recent discovery and use of fossil fuels. Some go so far as to propose the phase-out of fossil fuels. How have Earth’s billions of residents (7.7 billion in 2019) responded for its energy needs in the past 150 years? Some demographic analysts react with fear; others perceive our home satellite with joyful optimism, thanking God for His generous provision of energy resources, and calling Planet Earth “a place to thrive!” 

Believers in the Creator must approach the blame/cause issue with divine wisdom which comes only from above.